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What Does a Car “Black Box” Mean for You?

closeup of car accident

When most people hear the term “black box” they think of an airplane’s flight recorder. The device that all airplanes carry that is recovered after a tragic airplane crash that details what happened in the cockpit right before the plane crashed. Crash Investigators look for airplane black boxes to help reconstruct what was going on moments before the crash. But did you know that your new car has one too? In your car, it’s called an event data recorder (EDR).

Originally, event data recorders were used in the mid-1990’s by car manufacturers to measures safety components in vehicles crashed in simulated automobile accidents. Since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) started using the event data recorder’s information to reconstruct and collect information car accidents. Eventually making it a mandatory component to all new cars. According to a report from USA Today, “In 2013, 96% of every new car sold in the United States came with a black box, and as of Sept. 1, 2014, every new vehicle must have one installed.”

Assuming you have an event data recorder in your vehicle, you should be aware that it is recording. So it’s important to know what data that black box is recording and who can access your car’s EDR.

According to the NHTSA, the car’s event data recorder records up to 15 different crash data variants. For example, speed, braking, steering, acceleration and also information from inside the car, such as sensors in the seat to detect passengers, seat belts, deploy airbags, etc. But as technology advances, more variables can be tracked.

However, many Americans are unaware that these “auto black boxes” exist. Even more so, if you are in an accident, these car black boxes can be used against you in court. Advocates for privacy are afraid that this information can eventually be used to track your every move while in a vehicle equipped with a black box.

Who has a right to your car’s black box recordings?

The legal implications are vast on who has a right to view your vehicle’s event data recordings, especially in the event of an accident and trial. Currently, the majority of states do not have any laws regarding who can access a car’s black box information. A vehicle’s black box data can be subpoenaed by police and lawyers. Also, a car’s EDR can also be accessed by insurance companies, which could also be used against drivers in collision claims.

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